The time has come to give Starks jump-start at corner

September 29, 1998|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Ted Marchibroda was talking about Priest Holmes. But he could have been talking about Duane Starks, too.

"I've always said, if a guy does a heck of a job on special teams, he's going to be a good football player," the Ravens' coach said Sunday night.

Well, Starks does a heck of a job on special teams, and he's already a good football player.

It's time to start him at cornerback over DeRon Jenkins.

Marchibroda said he is not yet ready to make the move, but Jenkins reverted to his old ways in Sunday's 31-24 victory over Cincinnati.

Starks was the No. 10 pick in the draft. He has had his rookie indoctrination. Why delay the inevitable any longer?

The party line yesterday was that Jenkins didn't look as bad on film as he did to the naked eye. Still, it's doubtful that Starks could have played worse.

Jenkins committed two fourth-down interference penalties in the second quarter, leading to 10 Cincinnati points. He also allowed a 67-yard touchdown pass to Carl Pickens in the fourth quarter, enabling the Bengals to close within 28-24.

"He fell back a little bit," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis acknowledged. "It was not his best effort of the season. He got away from some things fundamentally that he's got to get back on and get done."

And quickly, if he is to retain his starting job.

Rod Woodson is playing so well at left corner, opponents are throwing to the other side. The Bengals attacked him only three times, including a fourth-and-one pass to Darnay Scott at the Ravens' 32 with 1: 46 left.

The call was inexplicable -- Corey Dillon had averaged 5.2 yards per carry on the drive, and Pickens had abused Jenkins all night. Woodson broke up the play, but Marchibroda also praised Jenkins for his role in the coverage.

"Give the kid a little credit," Marchibroda said. "DeRon challenged the receiver on his side [Pickens]. He had the guy in man-to-man. He went into the situation and was pressing him. He accepted the challenge in a crisis situation."

Fair enough, but if Marchibroda wants a corner routinely to embrace such challenges, then Starks is his man.

Starks is only 5 feet 10 and 170 pounds, but he isn't going to miss tackles or play tentatively. He's going to be aggressive, the Ray Lewis of the secondary.

He likely would struggle at first, but he made two spectacular plays against Pittsburgh in the opener, leaping for an interception and chasing down Richard Huntley to force a fumble and save a touchdown.

"He's a tough little kid," Marchibroda said.

And he was at it again Sunday night, taking out two defenders on one return, then delivering a crunching block to spring Jermaine Lewis on his pivotal 87-yard punt return in the third quarter.

"He got lucky I didn't get him clean," Starks said, referring to the Bengals' Thomas Randolph. "But I got him good enough."

Moving Starks into the starting lineup would require minor coverage adjustments. But if it makes the Ravens better, who cares?

"I'm not contemplating that move at this point," Marchibroda said. "DeRon Jenkins has played good football for us. He improved and played well during the preseason. At this point, I feel he deserves and has earned more chances to play."

Woodson, too, believes that Jenkins is still improving.

Jenkins could not be reached to comment.

"I thought DeRon played pretty well besides the one long pass," Woodson said. "That was a bad call in the end zone, the pass interference. But other than that, he was close on all his passes. He missed a couple of tackles, but that's part of the game, too.

hTC "I still think he's getting comfortable out there. Once it all clicks in -- and it'll click in sometime this year -- it will be a piece of cake. He's got great feet, great instincts for the ball."

Starks?

"He's still coming along," Woodson said. "I think you always want to be smart with players. You want them to always have confidence. You don't want to throw them out there to the wolves, especially a corner."

Marchibroda doesn't like to start rookies to begin with, but Starks already is part of the third-down package, and Marvin Lewis estimated that he played almost half the defensive snaps Sunday night.

This is Jenkins' third season. He's hardly a lost cause, but opponents are going to start attacking him ruthlessly. And how long was he going to hold off Starks, anyway?

The Ravens are off Sunday, so now is the perfect time to make the switch, and give Starks the extra week to prepare. The opposing receivers aren't getting any easier. Waiting on deck: Tennessee's Yancey Thigpen.

"He wants to do it. He feels like he's prepared to do it," Marvin Lewis said of Starks. "He's got some things he needs to get cleaned up, too. This is kind of what we wanted, to have a guy who is there pushing the other two guys."

Starks is pushing. Jenkins is fading.

Why delay the inevitable any longer?

Pub Date: 9/29/98

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